The Bronx: A Brief Description


IN two respects New York is now the greatest city in the world—in area, and in the variety, beauty, and magnitude of her public parks. While Central Park and Prospect Park are the pride of the city, it is not until one passes over the Harlem and wanders through the miles of forests and meadows of Van Cortlandt Park, or in Bronx Park follows the clear and silvery waters of the Bronx to the wide green levels of Pelham Bay Park, with its cool breezes and wide views of the Sound, that one appreciates the greatness of our park system, and the farsightedness of those city officials who, about 1870, began the movement that resulted in the acquiring of these forest-clad districts, to be held forever for the delight and well being of the people of the city.

Van Cortlandt Park, which lies nearest the Hudson and extends from the Yonkers line almost to Spuyten Duyvil, is two miles long by one mile wide, and contains
1,132 acres. Pelham Bay Park exceeds it, however, having 1,756 acres, while Bronx Park falls in behind with 662 acres. When you consider that Central Park contains but 840 acres, and Prospect 516 1/6, you get a better idea of the magnitude of these later parks. Van Cortlandt Park comprises part of the famous old manor of Phillipseborough. The city has done little more to improve it than to lay out good roads through its forests and valleys.

If, on leaving Kingsbridge, we follow the bicyclers along the old Albany Post Road north, we shall see, shortly before reaching the Yonkers city line, the old Van Cortlandt manor house, a fine old mansion standing in the fields on our left, with wide lawns in front. It occupies the site of a blockhouse erected by Governor Dongan as an outpost and place of refuge from the Indians for hunting and scouting parties. Jacobus Van Cortlandt married Eva Phillipse, daughter of Frederick, the famous lord of Phillipseborough, and his son Frederick built the present mansion in 1748, as you may see by a stone on the southeast corner. It is now the property of the city, being included in the park, and we may enter freely. Here are the wide halls, the huge fireplaces, flanked by blue tiles bearing pictures Van Cortlandt Manor House. of scriptural scenes, the deep window seats where the young people found quiet retreats and their elders smoked and gravely talked in colonial days.

In the Revolution, when this section was a dark and bloody ground, and the outposts of the British and patriot armies confronted each other from these hilltops, the old house was the headquarters of the commander of the German yagers. A few days before the British left New York forever, on Evacuation Day, 1783, General Washington and his staff took up their abode here, the general making it his headquarters until he, with his army, occupied the city. The bed in which he slept is still preserved in the old house.

Because of its historical interest, the Colonial Dames of the State of New York secured a lease of it for twenty-five years, and opened there a very interesting collection of relics of the Revolution and of colonial times.

On a part of the estate is still shown an old oak on which thirty "cowboys" were hanged during the Revolution. At that time this region quite over to the Bronx, and to the Sound for that matter, lay " between the lines," and was ranged over and harried by Tories and patriots alternately, the one side being termed " cowboys," and the other " skinners." First the Tories would make a raid, and then the patriots would attack them in reprisal, while both parties plundered the peaceful Quakers without mercy. By 1779 these people had become mere marauding bands, plundering both Whig and Tory impartially, and in January of that year Colonel Aaron Burr was ordered to take command of the " lines," punish the marauders, and give peace to the country. He was admirably fitted for the task, and did what others had not been able to do. First he drew a map of the country, showing all the roads and paths by which the culprits could escape. Then he made a list of all the inhabitants, putting each in his proper class, as whig, tory, half tory, spy, marauder, etc., and when an outrage was committed made every suspected party given an account of himself. Then, with his men, he scouted so unceasingly, watched so vigilantly, and punished so sternly that the bands were soon broken up, and life and property became as secure as in New York or in the Continental camp.

There are several smooth, hard roads leading eastward into the beautiful valley of the Bronx. From its entrance into the sound at Hunts Point, back through Westchester, Bronx Park, Woodlawn, Mount Vernon, Bronxville, Tuckahoe, and White Plains (where the battle was fought), to its source in the hills this side of the Croton divide, it presents every variety of sylvan and pastoral scenery, in such striking contrast with the works and homes of men as to be a source of constant surprise and delight.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Bronx: A Brief Description
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Brief History of the City of New York by Charles B. Todd; Member of the New York Historical Society: American Book Company Historical Society 1899
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